Monday, January 2, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Reign of the Dinosaurs

This New Horizons title from 1992 caught my eye on eBay - I will confess - because the cover illustration is very, very strange. That is one terrifying-looking tyrannosaur - bordering on surreal, actually. Expecting more weirdness inside, I snapped it up only to find that, in fact, it contains a great deal of stunning artwork. Why the publishers chose to stick such a bad piece on the cover (clearly by a jobbing illustrator - spot the Sibbick reference) given what's presented inside the book is anyone's guess.

Alongside some well-worn art from the likes of Burian, Zallinger and Parker (pretty much all of which has been featured here before), this book features stunning work from, in particular, Mark Hallett and Eleanor Kish. A couple of the pieces included - a cryptically-camouflaged Hypacrosaurus by Kish and a rather dead Triceratops being picked over by mammals from Hallett - have already been looked at by David. However, there's a lot here that's new to LITC.

There is one thing I need to get out of the way, however, before we begin with the good stuff.

Wah-waaaaaah. Oh, the 1980s (or, ahem, early '90s)...

Never mind, though - here comes an amazing artwork from Mark Hallett (with apologies for the big ol' page fold - this is a small book).

When I first stumbled upon this in this book I couldn't quite believe my eyes. This is from the 1980s!?! Holy crap! The only possible explanation for such excellence is that Hallett is in possession of a TARDIS. The theropod in the centre of this scene (Rapator - a possible allosauroid known from very fragmentary remains) has correctly-orientated forelimbs, the brachiosaurs have accurate hands and feet, and most astonishingly of all the little theropod in the foreground (Kakuru, again known from very fragmentary remains) appears to have a protofeather coat. Just stunning. I can't quite believe that this painting didn't feature in more dinosaur books in the early '90s.

More recognisable is this piece from 1986, entitled Crossing the Flat. It depicts everyone's favourite disproportionately long-necked sauropod Mamenchisaurus. Not a lot to say about this one - it's beautiful, though.

Eleanor Kish, for her part, also contributes a number of pieces that are very beautifully painted, even if they haven't aged as well as Hallett's.

Her reconstructions are excellent for the 1980s, and apparently she went as far as to create models of the animals' skeletons, reconstructing them in 3D before moving on to the painting at hand. Even if this Saurolophus looks a little dated now (and the swan-necked plesiosaur merrily paddling along in the background is particularly unfortunate), Kish is superb at believably placing her animals in environments in such a way that they look like part of the ecosystem, rather than obviously being the centre of attention. The book quotes Dale Russell as saying that Kish creates "images of landscapes [palaeontologists] can never see".

This Daspletosaurus (shown scaring off a champsosaur) does have a notably peculiar head - it's a bit of a shrink-wrapped skull with huge eyes. Still, I wouldn't mind having this painting on my wall - just drink in that lush scenery.

Finally, here's a particularly bleak scene from Kish entitled Chasmosaurus, with the titular ceratopsian's corpse being picked over by two small maniraptoran theropods (it's difficult to tell whether they are dromaeosaurs or troodonts, although they are probably the former). Apart from being naked (of course), the theropods do look very, very skinny, although one could argue that, given the context of the scene, perhaps they are starving. The weird, pointy protuberance of the pubic bones seems to be something common to Kish's dinosaurs. Still, this is a highly evocative and desolate scene. In the book it's included in the chapter on the K/Pg extinction event. Of course the painting could not be set at that time, but rather about ten million years before, given that Chasmosaurus is known from the Dinosaur Park Formation.


  1. I had this book! I've forgotten about most of it, but this certainly gives me a memory jog.

  2. Kish had a display of her work at the Canadian Museum of Nature some time ago - perhaps in '94 as part of the launch of the NFB's "Dinosaurs: Piecing it all together"(?) Memory fails as usual but I have an order card for the film which I got at the exhibit. Her models always impressed me more than the paintings. She had a huge presence at the time, your post reminded me I haven't heard of her for a *long* time. Russell was a big booster. One of her paintings shows the moon before crater Tycho was formed, he made a big point of that.

  3. Eleanor Kish seems often to have been credited as 'Ely Kish' too. One of my favourite paintings of hers is this Pachycephalosaurus. You only see a peep of the animal as it takes shelter from the rain. It's refreshingly unusual in the choice of scene as well as in not placing the dinosaur centre stage, besides from being such a beautiful, beautiful painting.

  4. Also, the Hallett illustration is indeed remarkable. It does make one think of those instances in which 'modern' ideas had already been early posited but were unfashionable enough not to have been embraced (and consequently not depicted in art).

  5. The last one has the surreal quality of Dali, even when it's shows the desolation at the K/Pg extinction event.

  6. @ferwen Like I said, it can't be said extinction event, as Chasmosaurus existed about 10 million years before that.

  7. @ferwen Good point about Dali though.

  8. My introduction to Hallett came from Zoobooks, a fantastic series of magazine-style books from the '80s about animals aimed for children that contained better visuals than just about any other resource available at the time. Hallett was the art director, and there were typically paintings of a given animal's musculature, skeleton, and a "family-tree" style painting of all the members of a group, such as the big cats or bears, etc. The dinosaurs issue is a classic, all painted by Hallett.

    I also had a Kish calendar in the late '80s, with a stunning Dromiceiomimus. Good stuff.

  9. I've seen that Hallett Australian landscape somewhere other than in that book, I'm pretty sure, but I can't remember where. Is it online somewhere?

  10. Well first off, Hallet and Kish rock the house.

    But... my God... that cover art... The tyrannosaur's eye... what?

  11. @Chris
    I have that illustration in two books (which both happen to be sitting right beside me).
    It's in "Dinosaurs Past and Present," edited by Sylvia J. Czerkas and Everett C. Olson, and it's in "The Ultimate Dinosaur," edited by Peter Dodson.

    According to the blurb in "DInosaurs Past and Present" it was originally created for "Science Digest" and is from 1981(!).

  12. "(clearly by a jobbing illustrator - spot the Sibbick reference)"

    I thought I would since no one else has yet:

  13. @Talcott & @Marc

    I think that pic was in Omega Science Digest, the Aussie version of the US Science Digest, altho' it might've been in the US parent mag, too. It was similar to Omni, which I also subscribed to, until it started trying to appeal to a broader market by including pseudo-science and fringe-health articles.

    I can't be sure without access to the original but I don't think that it is fuzz on Kakuru (not in 1981!). Might it just be an artifact of the brush-work?

  14. I remember seeing that Hallett painting of the Australian scene in "Science Digest" (US version) way back when.

    In another issue of "Science Digest" magazine, Hallett also did a remarkable painting of several different therapsids -- each with striking colors and markings. (Not a nature scene, but a kind of "family portrait" of all sorts of therapsids on perhaps an abstract background, possibly a two-page spread.) I haven't seen it anywhere since, in print or online. It's not even on Mark Hallett's website, more's the pity.

    The same therapsid "Science Digest" article was also illustrated with, I think, a night scene of some Oligokyphus bounding away from some large hunting theropods, also painted by Hallett.

    Does any of this ring a bell with anyone? It would be awesome if these images could be located and posted.

    -- Stevo Darkly

  15. Heh. I did some Googling using "Mark Hallett" and "Science Digest" as a search term (I couldn't think of the name of the magazine until Talcott reminded me). I found a black-and-white version of that Hallett therapsid painting at on a Greek-language website ( Unfortunately, you can't see the beautiful colors of the original, but the B&W version at least gives a hint of how cool the markings are.

  16. I love that cover. I wouldn't mind having that on my wall.

  17. @Mark: You know, I'm not sure. Looking at it closely, the other animals do not have the same 'brush effect' on them; also, the skin colour changes abruptly halfway down the leg. Both of which support the fuzz interpretation - fuzzy dinosaurs weren't unheard of back then, either (just incredibly rare). It also appears to have a little feathery crest on its head. I should upload a higher-res version...

  18. This was one of the first dinosaur books I bought as a kid, from an old car boot sale. I never read a word, I just spent ages admiring the art. The only unfortunate thing was the size of the book, which meant that often these great illustrations were bisected by the binder.
    It's great to learn a bit about the artists behind these works.

  19. The cover picture looks like a demented Tyrannosaur(?)throwing a surpise party for a less than impressed Triceratops!
    Mark Hallett's dinosaurs of Australia painting has been a staple in Australian museums for decades.(usually as a poster in the gift shop)
    Always liked it!

  20. @Marc - I boosted the gamma and tweaked the RGB a bit on the scanned pic and I am almost convinced that there is a possibility of a chance that you may be right!

  21. Here's a late comment regarding Mark Hallett's Australian dinosaur painting, but sketches of the Australian dinosaurs by Hallett were published as well, in Donald F. Glut's New Dinosaur Dictionary (1982): Austrosaurus mckillopi (p. 75) Fulgurotherium australe (p. 141); Hughenden Sauropod (p. 271); Kakuru kujani (p. 269); Minmi paravertebra (p. 269); and Rapator ornitholestoides (p. 213). The Austrosaurus sketch is far superior to the painted version, though all other sketches used are virtually identical to those in the finished painting. The Muttaburrasaurus sketches were not published as far as I am aware.

  22. What I now want to know is if the other Hallett sketches in the New Dinosaur Dictionary ever became more than that: he also had sketches of: Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis (p. 150); Ischisaurus cattoi (p. 155; now considered a synonym of Herrerasaurus); Patagosaurus fariasi (p. 273); Pisanosaurus mertii (p. 199); Saltasaurus loricatus (p. 217); Staurikosaurus pricei (p. 227); and Volkheimeria chubutensis (p. 259). All of these are South American; I've wondered for some time if there is a similar painting out there of South American dinosaurs by Hallett that I don't know about!


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